HC Deb 13 November 1893 vol 18 cc763-5
MR. BEITH (Inverness, &c.)

I beg to ask the Secretary for Scotland if he is aware that at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the County of Sutherland, held at Golspie on Tuesday, 31st October, an application by Sheriff John-stone for additional police to enforce the service of writs upon crofters in the Air-dens District for arrears of rent had been refused by six votes to two, and that it is the fact that the Air-dens crofters were forced to enter on 19 years' leases in 1880, under threat of eviction, at increased rents, valued upon their own improvements; if he is prepared to support the action of the Standing Joint Committee of the County of Sutherland; and if he will, at the earliest possible date, bring in a Bill placing under the provisions of "The Crofters' Act, 1886," leaseholders for more than one year at the date of the passing of that Act?


At the same time, I will ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his attention has been drawn to a report in The Scottish Highlander of 2nd November, that at a recent meeting of the Standing Joint Committee of the County of Sutherland, held at Golspie on the previous Tuesday, no member of that Committee could be found to move or second a recommendation of Sheriff John-stone to secure the services of the Ross-shire and Inverness-shire police to enforce the payment of rents and law costs on the Ospisdale estate; and that Sheriff John-stone moved the recommendation himself, but failed to got a single supporter other than the chairman, factor of the Duke of Sutherland; and whether he will take stops, by legislation or otherwise, to prevent the personal interference of Sheriffs in the collection of rents, and to stay the eviction of crofter leaseholders pending the fulfilment of the promise of the Prime Minister to advance a Bill to include small tenants holding under lease in "The Crofters' Act, 1886"?


In answer to both my hon. Friends, I beg to state that the Standing Joint Committee of Sutherlandshire on the 31st October declined to ask Inverness-shire and Ross-shire to lend additional police to protect the officer in serving writs on crofting leaseholders at Airdens. It is the case that, as stated in the question, the chairman was the factor of the Duke of Sutherland, and that he was one of the minority of two. According to the newspaper report he made this remark— I have no doubt the tenants are suffering', and that, if the concessions which ought to have been made some time ago had been made, these circumstances would not have occurred. At the end of the meeting the Standing Joint Committee unanimously passed a resolution— That the Standing Joint Committee intimate to the Ospisdale estate management that the case of the Airdens leaseholders had raised the question whether the forces of the Crown should be used to enforce a claim which, though legal by contract, was, according to the present standard of fixing the rent of land, admittedly unjust, and that in their opinion the estate management should use all the means to come to a settlement with their Airdens tenants, either by, like other landlords, allowing of their own accord a reasonable reduction of rent, permitting the Crofters' Commission to fix a fair rent, arbitration, or in any other way by which a settlement could be effected. I can only at present express my hope that the representations made by the Joint Committee will have the effect which they ought to have on the estate management. With reference to the question of the hon. Member for Ross-shire, I would point out that the Sheriff only did what was his duty as the chief executive officer of the county. The intention of the Government to bring in a Bill to extend the benefit of the Crofters' Act, 1886, to such leaseholders has already been announced.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the authorities of the county have any right to deny police protection for this purpose?


Undoubtedly. The Standing Joint Committee, composed I partly of representatives of the County Council and partly of Commissioners of Supply, who are landowners, have the right to refuse to borrow reinforcements from other counties, and they have acted strictly within their rights.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the event of the Government introducing a, measure amending and extending the Crofters' Acts, he would consider the propriety of including in such extension crofters similarly situated in other parts of Scotland to those in the Highland Counties?


hon. Members will certainly force us to consider it if we do not consider it beforehand.